One of the most iconic scenes in the movie "Sound of Music" shows Julie Andrews marching off, leaving the convent and getting ready to take on the governess position for seven unruly children. As she thinks about the challenge ahead, she starts to falter so she sings to herself. "I have confidence that spring will come again, besides, which, you see, I have confidence in me." She picks up her flagging spirits and heads into the mansion to face the children.
Confidence is one of the most difficult intangibles to define and yet one of the most important attributes any successful person can have. All the great minds have tried to explain how it works. Vincent van Gogh said, "If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Shakespeare said, "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." Some clever unknown told us: "God wisely designed the human body so that we can neither pat our own backs nor kick ourselves too easily." And then there's: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go." ~Dr. Seuss.
Confidence, that most elusive of virtues, is vital for any successful venture. Think about it in the simplest of everyday activities. You walk down a staircase with confidence most of the time because you've done it so often you don't have to wonder whether you can do it or not. If, however, you look down at your feet and think about what you're doing, you lose confidence and stumble. Confidence is perhaps more important in sport than anywhere else. In sport, the vagaries of physical superiority are so frustrating that confidence becomes the difference between a top-six defenceman and a top-two. There have been supremely talented individuals who can't become all-stars and decently-talented pluggers who are second-liners because they believe that's what they can be.
It applies to teams too. Super-dominant teams like last year's Capitals can lose to bottom seeds like the Habs because they don't believe in themselves enough. It's all about confidence.
Looking at the Habs, we see some classic examples. Tomas Plekanec, who everyone knows can put up 70 points a year, didn't have any confidence in 2008-09 and he scored 39. Last season he got it back and returned to form.And then there are his opposite numbers in the confidence department. Ryan O'Byrne. Benoit Pouliot. Carey Price.
The most important intangible for this year's Canadiens, as it has been for every other team in every other sport for millenia, is confidence. If these guys can believe in themselves and convince their teammates to believe in them and each other, they can be a very good team. In today's NHL, there's not a whole lot separating the decent teams from the good. One of the few things that makes the difference, after superstars, systems and special teams are put aside, is confidence.
There's evidence Price is getting his back. He looked decent againt Toronto, but he was fabulous against the Pens. He was a guy who believed the puck would stop with him, and as the game wore on, his teammates started to believe too.
O'Byrne and Pouliot, on the other hand, are still trying to find a belief in themselves. O'Byrne is a great big guy who can skate and make a nice first pass, but he doesn't believe he's that. Pouliot is tall, fast and has lovely hands, but he's not buying it. None of the people who try to define confidence tell us whether outsiders can make a guy believe in himself, or whether it has to come solely from within.
However it happens, somebody needs to figure out how to teach it. In the meantime, the Canadiens have a few players with tremendous talent who don't necessarily believe they can do what they were born with the ability to do.
In the end, it'll come down to the leadership's abililty to make the low-esteem guys feel important and boost their belief in themselves. Basically, the leaders need to lead by example. It's a cliche, but if Gionta can go out there every night and work like a Trojan, he'll illustrate for Pouliot what needs to be done. If Gorges can be an example for O'Byrne, he'll get it. Carey Price is the biggest question mark in the confidence department, but one might suspect he finds his own inspiration, outside the team. If the rodeo or the native community can help him believe, he'll be formidable.
This year is a question mark year for the Habs, not because the talent isn't there, but because there are still questions about who believes in the team's ability to win.
It'll take talent to make the playoffs, but it will take confidence to win in the post-season. Nobody can say which team has it and which team doesn't at this point. And, of course, it's such a fleeting intangible, it can change between now and June.
In "The Sound of Music," Julie Andrews went into the mansion with confidence and she won the Captain's esteem and together they beat the Nazis. That's the movie all our moms made us watch over the holidays. If, however, Maria had decided seven kids were way too much and gone back to the convent, there'd be no story, no movie and no legend. It all comes down to belief and who can dredge up the most of it in his heart.
Moving a little beyond "The Sound of Music," Oliver Wendell Holmes once attended a meeting in which he was the shortest man present. "Dr. Holmes," quipped a friend, "I should think you'd feel rather small among us big fellows." "I do," retorted Holmes, "I feel like a dime among a lot of pennies." That should be the Habs. If that happens, it will be a very good season.